It was 7:30 a.m., and the hallways of Josh Knott's high school were silent. Soon the school would bustle with the excited chatter of students and the rattle of slamming lockers. But now, 45 minutes before class started, the campus was deserted except for several teachers. And Josh.
The high school senior sat in the computer lab, intensely staring at the screen. That day, he could easily have slept in and made it to class just as the first bell rang. But to Josh, catching a few extra z's was much less important than the scholarship application he'd arrived early to complete. The application meant the possibility of earning some additional cash for college—and Josh knew how important that money was to his future.
"When I was looking at schools my senior year, I realized how expensive college was," says Josh, now a sophomore at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. "The price tags worried me."
But instead of freaking out over the high cost of college, Josh decided to do something about it. In fact, he applied for almost any scholarship that came his way—even those that seemed like a long shot.
In the midst of his search for scholarships, Josh was certain he'd never win one sponsored by a national civic organization. After all, he was competing against dozens of other applicants across the state for the award. But he decided to take a stab at the application anyway—and walked away $800 richer. That's why he encourages other students to apply for as many scholarships as possible, even if odds are slim you'll receive the award.
"Even if you don't think your chances are very good, it's always worth it to try," says Josh.
Katie Gregory, a sophomore at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, knows the value of scholarships. A real veteran at scholarship applications, Katie completed at least a dozen applications and received almost half of the scholarships, including four local ones. Her suggestion: Thoroughly comb your hometown in search of funds.
"I was impressed by the generosity of organizations in the community," she says. "I really was surprised by how much the community gives to students each year."
But she's quick to admit the scholarships she received weren't merely handed to her. Applying for scholarships often requires hours of pondering essay questions, compiling lists of honors and organizing mounds of paperwork—activities that can be tough to juggle with a part-time job, schoolwork and extra curricular activities.
"Applying for scholarship money was really stressful," Katie says. "But even though it's a lot to deal with and a lot of essays to write, it really does pay off when you start receiving the letters that you've been accepted for scholarships."
But Start Early!
Josh ended up with several thousand dollars to apply to his college expenses, but he might have headed to college with even more cash if he'd started searching for financial aid earlier. Although he'd saved for several years, he didn't seriously start looking for college cash until his senior year in high school.
"I started searching a little late—later than I should have," he admits. "So I really had to hustle to meet some of the deadlines."
Katie certainly knows the value of starting the financial aid search early.
"In the beginning, looking at schools and King in particular, it seemed so impossible because of the price," she says. "My family just thought we'd dig in and start trying."
Katie began "digging in" early in her junior year. One of the first things she did was pay close attention to the scholarship announcements in her high school's daily bulletin. She also became "buddies" with her guidance counselor.
"I always watched the announcements and just made sure I picked up the applications from the guidance office," she says. "The counselors were helpful and always made sure they let us know when there were applications available."